I’ve had VR on the mind lately. Not because I want to, more because, as the next hot product/content ecosystem it’s saturating the mindspace at the moment. Our home base of Amsterdam seems to be in for a long hot VR summer as practically every tech-related event has featured some form of “sit in this chair and put the computer on your face” demo experience for attendees (to that end, I’m waiting for field reports from Lydia Nicholas, who ran the VR gauntlet this week at Campus Party in Utrecht). It’s this year’s Periscope, which was the previous year’s Vine, which was the previous year’s group selfie and so on back into the dark mists of time.
There is even a VR cinema in central Amsterdam that promises a half hour show for €12.50. Like 3D TV and film, and ancestral Victorian cinematographs more than a century ago (or simpler stereography), street crowds are being invited to “roll-up, roll-up” and become a swivelhead for a few not-quite-transporting moments. Thankfully, the “VR in a swing with a fan blowing on you” thing seems to have dissipated.
I’ve tried a number of these demos, most recently in an interesting party trick of a body swap with Natalie in Barcelona, which was an interesting view into what researchers claim can be achieved with a full-on VR experience, but I’m not convinced it can yet create the level of empathy more enthusiastic boosters claim.
Twitter friend Christopher Mims opines that a VR winter
may be just around the corner. I sometimes disagree with his arguments, but here I tend to agree. Getting hardware costs down seems to have little to do with success at this point—putting underwhelming experiences on peoples’ faces at a lower price point was possible with Glass. Like mobile, it may draw more developers in, but the lure of a quick 99 cents hasn’t exactly driven a wealth of amazing content for mobile games (excellent indie creations are the small exception, but not exactly catalysts for wider auteurism). Even chatting with digital media and advertising folks this week at Futuro, it seemed hard to pin down just what VR will excel at, beyond games. “We’re sure there’s something, we’re just not sure what.” And overall awareness
outside the bubble is not what you’d expect.
As folks who work in the futures field, we’re oddly expected to be bullish on VR (literally the phrase several people have used). I’ve even heard pleas to not rock the boat while this technology is in its infancy. There is a strong driver for a new set of platforms on which to develop hardware, software and media. You must feed the innovation shark or stops swimming—in this case keep pumping new development through the pipeline or budgets, jobs and relationships dry up.
In particular, I’m not a VR troll per se, but we do need to take a deep breath and look at this technology rationally. Optimism that it may have some interesting applications does not have to mean optimism that its the next big thing.
Still, something will turn up. Maybe VR demos are the endgame? :)